After five seasons of Murder, She Wrote, Angela Lansbury needed a break from the grueling filming schedules. Her initial 5-year contract was coming to an end, and the two-part season finale “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” was initially meant to be a series finale. However, at the last minute, the producers were able to get Angela to sign on to do another season—but the only way they could do that is by promising Angela a reduced workload.
Nonetheless, the network still required a full 22 episodes per season. Taking their cue from Season 3’s “Murder in a Minor Key“, the producers compromised by having Angela Lansbury (as Jessica Fletcher) simply introduce several of the episodes in Season 6 without actually starring in them. And so the “Bookend” episodes were born.
The producers hoped that some of these episodes could serve as backdoor pilots for new spin off series starring the newly introduced characters. However, Murder, She Wrote fans were not pleased to find that Jessica Fletcher wouldn’t be solving the crime, and so they didn’t give these episodes much of a chance and the series ratings began to slip.
There were a whopping 9 bookend episodes that season. (Clicking on the titles below will take you to my summary of that episode.)
- Ep. 3 “The Grand Old Lady“
- Ep. 5 “Jack & Bill“
- Ep. 10 “Class Act“
- Ep. 12 “Goodbye Charlie“
- Ep. 17 “Murder — According To Maggie“
- Ep. 18 “O’Malley’s Luck“
- Ep. 19 “Always A Thief“
- Ep. 21 “The Szechuan Dragon“
- Ep. 22 “The Sicilian Encounter“
Given that these accounted for over 40% of that season’s episodes, it’s not surprising that fans of Jessica Fletcher were upset. However, if you consider some of these episodes independently of Murder, She Wrote, you might find that they’re not so bad.
[Updated on October 20th 2020:]
When I originally published this post, I asked my blog readers and Murder, She Wrote fans: Which “bookend” episode from Season 6 would you like to have seen get its own spinoff show? I set up a Google form survey to collect their responses, and after two weeks I got the following results:
As you can see in the above chart, the one episode that got the most votes was “Jack & Bill” (with 10 votes)—viewers would have loved to see more stories of the private detective and his sidekick poodle! The Cabot Cove episode “The Szechuan Dragon” and Michael Hagarty episode “The Sicilian Encounter” were close seconds with 9 votes each. And a close third was “Class Act”—the story about a cop-turned-college instructor and his students.
On the other hand, the two episodes that didn’t really resonate with viewers were “The Grand Old Lady” and “O’Malley’s Luck”. Those episodes received only 3 votes each. The remaining episodes (“Goodbye Charlie”, “Murder–According to Maggie”, and “Always a Thief”) were somewhere in the middle with 5 votes each.
(By the way, you can still participate in the survey by following this link: https://forms.gle/S3Wsnk4byibfd9wC8. I will be checking it periodically and may update this post again if the results change significantly. You can select as many episodes as you like, and, if you have other comments, you can type them in the line next to “Other”.
[Update May 18th 2021:]
Although it’s been 7 months since I first ran the poll and tallied the results, I had still kept the survey open for anyone to respond to. It turns out that there are now 86 responses to the survey in total (up from 31 responses back in October). With so many more fans responding to the poll, it’s reasonable to assume that the results may have changed significantly.
The major difference we can see here is that, while “Jack & Bill” is still clearly a fan-favorite and “The Grand Old Lady” is still at the bottom, the episode “O’Malley’s Luck” went from being one of the two lowest-scoring episodes to being one of the two highest-scoring episodes.
I am going to continue keeping the survey open (so if you haven’t yet voted, you can still do so by following this link: https://forms.gle/S3Wsnk4byibfd9wC8), and will check back and update this post again in October 2021.